Why was Jeff shaking?
Regulation of the Press is certainly an emotive subject, I admit! People get really worked up when discussing it. From the vantage point where I was seated Friday evening at the University of Botswana Library Auditorium, I couldn’t help but notice how Jeff Ramsay’s hand was quivering as he held the microphone to speak.
The occasion was ‘The Big Debate on Regulation of the Media’ hosted under the auspices of ‘The Frontline,’ Southern Africa Investigative Journalism Conference. The panel included an illustrious duo of Botswana’s seasoned media lawyers – Dr Tachilisa Balule of the University of Botswana and Dick Bayford of Bayford & Associates – as well as Prof. Anton Harber, the Editor-In-Chief of South Africa’s 24hr news channel, eNCA.The session was moderated by Kealeboga Dihutso and was aired live on DumaFm. Evidently, Prof Harber must have touched a raw nerve on Ramsay, who incidentally, was appearing in his own cognisance and not as government’s spokesperson.
Put bluntly, Prof Harber feels that statutory regulation of the media is a licence for politicians to ride roughshod over journalists and must be shunned with the utmost contempt it deserves. In this view, he found a willing partner in Bayford.And surprisingly, it was Ramsay – the co-architect (with Bayford) of the Deed of Trust of the Press Council of Botswana – who argued intensely and passionately to a point of shaking, for regulation of the media. In fact, he feels that media standards all over the world and not only in Botswana have declined so drastically that the only saving grace is statutory regulation. To drive his point home, he cited being quoted by the LA Times, a US-based publication, when he has never spoken to any of its reporters!Prof Harber conceded that the Press has its own flaws and weaknesses but that these are not insurmountable.
Yes, like any other fallible person, journalists also make mistakes but he insisted that there already exists, legal avenues through which the aggrieved could seek recourse. Again Bayford concurred, adding that regulation of the media by laws only serves to impede citizens’ enjoyment of their constitutionally enshrined right – the right to freedom of expression.For his part, Dr Balule argued that the media ought to be regulated to promote “plurality of media outlets and media types” through ownership controls and anti-monopoly laws; it must also be regulated, especially the broadcast media, to promote diversity of media content through promulgation of right to information laws and protection of confidentiality of journalists’ sources of information; regulation of the media according to Dr Balule is also desirable to promote its accessibility to the public to cater for aspects such as affordability, geographic coverage and language.
And finally, it is Dr Balule’s assertion that media must be regulated for social reasons, to guard against it harming other values which are protected by law.